Doesn’t it make you wonder? Why someone would think of using ginger as a dessert ingredient? It’s spicy and peppery, not something that you would think to mix in a cookie or bread for that matter.
Not familiar with Gingerbread?
Gingerbread is a baked confection that contains ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and sweeteners like honey, sugar, or molasses. Gingerbread varies in form from cakes to cookies.
The name is derived from the Latin word, “Zingiber” which means “preserved ginger”. The French call it “pain d’epices which literally means “spice bread” while the Germans call it “Pfefferkuchen or “pepper cake” – all spices back then were called pepper.
Gingerbread Cookie Trivia: Interesting Tidbits
A Brief Look into the History of Gingerbread
The history of gingerbread isn’t clear, but it traces way back to the 11th Century. Ginger, the root at the heart of this confection, is first cultivated in China. It most likely travelled to Europe and nearby countries through the Silk Road, which was a centuries-old network of trade routes. This route allowed traders to travel from China all the way to Turkey to share their spices, produce, and products.
According to Sweets.Seriouseats.com, an Armenian Monk named Gregory of Nicopolis is known to have introduced it to French Priests when he relocated to France in 992.
In the middle ages, gingerbread was becoming a staple in Europe specifically in Germany, Poland, the British Isles, and the Netherlands. It was particularly popular in a Polish city named Torun, located on an old spice route making ginger and the spices needed to make it readily accessible. As sweetener, they used honey which was also abundant in their city. They were known as pierniki, which means “peppery” in Polish.
According to Smithsonian.com, gingerbread became a mainstay in festivals and fairs throughout medieval Europe. They were made and sold in various forms. Some are shaped like animals or flowers, while some are made in the likeness of kings. The practice of making them into little Gingerbread houses started in the 16th century in Germany. They became even more popular in the 19th century after the Brothers Grimm wrote their famous fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel”. In Norway, they even made an entire city made of gingerbread – annually.
Gingerbread cookie was so popular in Torun that in 1885, a businessman named Gustaw Weese built a factory dedicated to making them. This allowed for commercial production and they were shipped to shores as far as Japan and Australia. In 2015, this factory was converted into “The Museum of Torun Gingerbread”, where visitors can see the machinery, cookie cutters, and how gingerbread was made.
Gingerbread and Christmas
Gingerbread confections are popular during Christmas, particularly in Europe and the US. Gingerbread cookies are cut and baked different shapes then decorating with colorful icing. These are used for decoration as well as consumption.
It’s not clear why gingerbread became associated with Christmas. Some say it’s because, households were only able to make them during Christmas and Easter. On normal days, only gingerbread masters were allowed to make them except during these 2 holidays.
According to Michael Krondl, author of Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert, another reason could be the belief that the spices in Gingerbread heats up the body during winter.
The Rise of the Gingerbread men
The most famous Gingerbread cookie would have to be Gingerbread men. Until today, when we hear gingerbread, the image that comes to our minds is a man-shaped cookie decorated with a face and shirt buttons in other words – Gingy (the only baked character from Shrek). It’s not clear how this practice started but here’s a story shared by experts. In one of her elaborate dinners, Queen Elizabeth I instructed her royal gingerbread maker to make them out of the likeness of foreign dignitaries and her guests of honor as part of her efforts at diplomacy. Looks like it caught on.
Gingery Superstitions & Tradition
There is a lot of fanfare around gingerbread. Unmarried English women would make and consume gingerbread men with the belief that it will bring them luck in finding a husband. There is also a Swedish tradition in which they use gingerbread to make wishes.
Make Your Gingerbread Cookies!
Whew, that was a long history to trace! But I guess it makes that bite into your next gingerbread cake or cookie all the more special. We’ll share simple recipes for gingerbread biscuits that you can try at home. One is a classic while the others have a modern twist.
Classic Gingerbread Cookies
Make these cookies and have fun decorating them for Easter, Christmas, or any occasion! Here is a recipe from tasteofhome.com.
If you want to know how to decorate your gingerbread men or make your own gingerbread house, here are some YouTube videos you can watch.
The New Age Gingerbread Cookies
The love of gingerbread cookies has spawned new recipes. Here are some recipes for you to try.
Chocolate Chip Ginger Bread Oatmeal Cookies by amyshealthybaking.com
This recipe combines the classics – Chocolate chip, Gingerbread, and oatmeal cookies into one!
Gingerbread Thumb Print Cookies
This recipe has raspberry jam at the center of these delicious cookies. You can also replace this with orange marmalade or good old melted chocolate. Check out the recipe at eatingwell.com.
In case you need more reasons to like Gingerbread
What makes gingerbread healthy are its main ingredients. Each main ingredient gives you a host of good stuff.
- Molasses – is a thick dark syrup that is the byproduct in the production of sugar crystals. Unlike refined sugar, molasses offer you some good stuff like vitamin B6, iron, calcium, potassium, and manganese.
- Ginger – is known to reducing gas, improving digestion, easing cold and flu, and relieving pain or inflammation.
They are delicious with a bit it of a kick. Bake them and taste them, who knows, they may turn out to be your favorite cookie. Feel free to make the recipe your own by adding spices, flavorings, or replace chocolate chips with dried or candied fruits.